Americans love their pets. According to the 2011-12 National Pet Owners' Survey, 46.4 million homes own at least one dog, and the owners were planning to spend $52.87 billion on their furry household members. Many see their pets as surrogate children and will purchase a variety of clothing items for them – scarves, sweaters, jackets, hats and more. If you love pets and fashion, a pet clothing business might be your calling.
Designing the Business
Decide how large you want your business to be and what type of business you wish to have, in addition to managing all the usual start-up business requirements. Whether you plan to distribute products nationally or are content to serve a local market, you must decide on the direction of your business. A retail pet supply boutique will give you control over everything you sell, and you can select other products to complement your fashion items. Selling directly to customers over the Internet is an option that you also should pursue since it opens you up to a huge virtual market.
Designing the Products
You can begin by working out of home, experimenting with patterns and different types of fabric and accessories. Look out for items that a dog could swallow – buttons and beads, for example. Experiment by designing prototypes on your home sewing machine before you upgrade to a commercial-quality machine. Be sure to try the clothes on actual dogs. If the garment pinches or cuts into the dog's legs, now is the time to modify the pattern. If the clothes have elastic straps or belts with buckles, they can fit dogs within a size range, but you will still need small, medium and large sizes. Make your own patterns or find them online.
Growing the Business
As you start out, promote your business by visiting local pet stores, groomers and veterinarians who sell pet accessories. Carry enough samples to showcase your work. If you choose to stay small, you can hand craft everything and make that a selling point. If you wish to expand your business, decide whether to hire a seamstress to help you or locate a factory to produce larger quantities. How much inventory you need will depend on the size of your market and the time required to produce more items. Include seasonal items in your plan and request orders far enough in advance to be able to fulfill them.
Marketing the Business
Look for creative ways to get noticed. Articles – print and online – that share information about dogs, animal care and your products can provide general knowledge as well as product-specific information. Providing free information is a strong marketing tool to attract and retain buyers. Consider doing a fashion show with shelter animals. Not only will you showcase your products, you will bring attention to dogs that desperately need adoption. Advertise in pet-specific magazines. In addition to national publications, look for smaller magazines that serve a local or regional market. The publisher may cut you a deal on advertising if you write for them. Joining the American Pet Products Association will enhance your image as a professional and give you access to information regarding marketing and industry trends, legal issues and general information about the pet industry. The APPA sponsors the Global Pet Expo, where you can showcase your products.
Thomas Metcalf has worked as an economist, stockbroker and technology salesman. A writer since 1997, he has written a monthly column for "Life Association News," authored several books and contributed to national publications such as the History Channel's "HISTORY Magazine." Metcalf holds a master's degree in economics from Tufts University.